IEBC selection panel must be credible to protect democracy

Dr Nelson Makanda was sworn in by Chief Justice Martha Koome as a member of the IEBC selection panel on February 3, 2023. [ Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

The Selection Panel on the appointment of members of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) should be allowed to carry out its mandate without any form of interference or influence.

It should endeavour to raise the bar and select appointees based on merits and in accordance with the law. This may be a tall order but it is doable. It is a great responsibility and they should inspire confidence.

The credibility of IEBC is determined by the credibility of its commissioners and the Selection Panel is at the core of ensuring we have credible appointees.

There have been allegations of money for jobs and other unprofessional conduct and although these were never proven, the outcome of the selection process has included appointees that did not enjoy trust and confidence of some key stakeholders.

In addition, the Selection Panel is taking up its duties on the heels of resignations of three IEBC commissioners and removal of one commissioner, the four having been appointed by the immediate former selection panel two years ago.

The terms of the other three including the chairperson have expired. So, the Selection Panel will be reconstituting the entire IEBC.

The opposition is already up in arms against reconstitution of IEBC. First, they rejected amendment of section 1 of schedule one of the IEBC Act reconstituting membership of the Selection Panel and its subsequent gazettement.

Therefore, the Selection Panel is already on spotlight and intense scrutiny on it is expected. They have a huge responsibility.

The Constitution states that a person is not qualified for appointment as an IEBC commissioner if they held or stood for election; as an MP or member of a county assembly or a member of the governing body of a political party or they hold any State office.

The IEBC Act provides that, one qualifies for appointment as chairperson if s/he is qualified Supreme Court judge. To qualify for appointment as a Supreme Court judge, one must hold a law degree from a recognised university, or is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya, or possess an equivalent qualification in a common-law jurisdiction, and must have at least 15 years' experience as a superior court judge or at 15 years' experience as a distinguished academic, judicial officer, legal practitioner or such experience in other relevant legal field; and must have a high moral character, integrity and impartiality.

One qualifies for appointment as a commissioner of IEBC if s/he is a holder of a degree from a recognised university and has proven relevant experience in any of the following fields; electoral matters; management; finance; governance; public administration; law; and also meets requirements of Chapter Six of the Constitution.

Perhaps, electoral knowledge should be a requirement for all applicants as it is the core business of IEBC. This is because stakeholders are increasingly demanding professional elections and delivery of credible and professional elections results is achieved through transparent and accountable, free and fair electoral processes.

This means electoral administrators and managers must possess requisite credentials, skills, knowledge, expertise and experience in elections. If we cannot send civilians to fight in the Kenya Defence Forces or send people who are not surgeons to operate patients, why should we trust people with no electoral knowledge and experience to oversee our elections? Credible, transparent, free and fair elections are complicated to achieve and require professional implementation of all steps in the electoral cycle at the requisite time.

If any of the steps are skipped or are not properly implemented, they affect the outcome. Electoral oversight requires expertise in elections. Members with insufficient knowledge of electoral matters can be easily misled or manipulated as has been alleged.

Their ignorance can unintentionally undermine credibility of the electoral process thereby impugning election results. This is worsened by the growing perception that it is not those who vote but those who count the votes that determine electoral outcomes.

These issues together with available little choice in the list of candidates, result in dwindling voter turnout, which undermines our democracy and provides us with poor leaders.